rockerest’s review published on Letterboxd:
(I have not read the novella this movie is based on: Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang)
As a person uneducated in film, it is very difficult for me to express how good Arrival is.
If this movie had given me nothing but the puzzle and the heartbreak and the aliens and the linguistics, it probably still would have been 5 stars. Of course, it would have been hard to give me all that without the more technical achievements, so maybe the story is inextricably intertwined with the act of telling the story.
Thankfully, Arrival gave me all the story elements and it gave me all of the technical merit, so it's an easy perfect.
I could probably spend a week talking about all of the aspects of the script, so I'll skip that: part of the constant joy and sorrow of this movie is experiencing the story as it unfolds. If you haven't seen it, I'll let you experience it yourself. If you have seen it, you don't need me to summarize.
I will - however - say that the script was incredible. Every line (with the exception of exactly one) was perfect, every scene was timed perfectly, every page served the greater story. The one exception was Ian's (Jeremy Renner) first line right as they're entering the pod for the first time. He says "That just happened." and no matter how many times I watch this movie I cannot stop cringing at the line and the delivery. Frankly I think he delivered it "correctly," it just should have been cut from the script. That said, I read the wikipedia plot summary for the story Arrival is based on (Story of Your Life) and it really feels like Arrival is a much better story. I know you can't infer that kind of stuff from some random person's write-up of the plot of a novella, but, I dunno, it really seems like it's just a loose collection of ideas strung together. The movie is tight and full of intent and cuts lots of what sounds like unnecessary cruft. Maybe I'm being too hard on Chiang about a medium that's really tough to construct worlds in.
It would be a crime for me to go any farther without mentioning how absolutely incredible Amy Adams' performance was (as Louise). Literally every moment she is on screen is breathtaking. The fact that Adams didn't win best actress and lost to fucking La La Land (a movie I've tried watching three times and couldn't make it past 10 minutes) pisses me off so much. I know there are a lot of Renner-haters out there, but I have always thought (and continue to think) that he is very good in every role he plays. Arrival is no exception. I could go on and on. Every character was believable and compelling.
Speaking of crimes, the only major awards Arrival won were for its sound (and I guess writing, if you count the Saturn awards?). The crime is not that it won for sound (generally, and editing), but rather that it didn't win for more things. Even the original score was barred by the Academy for, and I quote:
the Academy’s music branch ruled unanimously that voters would be influenced by the use of borrowed material in determining the value of Johann Johannsson’s original contributions
Rule 15 II E of the Academy’s rules and eligibility guidelines, a score “shall not be eligible if it has been diluted by the use of pre-existing music, or it has been diminished in impact by the predominant use of songs or any music not composed specifically for the film by the submitting composer.”
which is horseshit because
A Paramount source said original compositions constitute 86 percent of the film’s soundtrack. There is no appeals process and the branch’s decisions on these matters are final.
(Quoting from Variety)
Anyway, fuck the Academy in every possible way; they suck so hard.
The sound and music in Arrival are incredible. They contribute so much to any movie, but Arrival is elevated to an entirely separate level by even just the sound alone. Throw in the amazing music (spotify) and it's just mind-meltingly good.
I thought the direction was absolutely masterful. As noted above, the acting was phenomenal and - perhaps almost as importantly - the casting was flawless. The cinematography and editing were gorgeous throughout. The effects were mesmerizing and - obviously - convincing. There wasn't much makeup and the costumes were pretty much "modern contemporary," but all of the above were good. The movie, in other words, felt real.
And, if you've seen this movie, you know that for Arrival to feel real is for it to feel deeply sad and deeply thoughtful and deeply happy and deeply provoking.
Arrival is the kind of movie I keep going to theaters hoping to see again.